BLOOMINGTON " Justin Steffen had been handling the basketball all night against Central Catholic High School's trapping defense. The grind began to take a toll as the second half grew to a close. "I was pretty tired," the CPCI senior point guard said. "The last half of the game, I don't remember much of what happened."
That's OK. He'll have a lifetime for folks in Cissna Park and Crescent City to remind him.
Trailing 44-41 with 1.2 seconds left, Steffen took an inbounds pass and fired up a high-arching shot from 65 feet away. It found nothing but net, sending the State Farm Holiday Classic Class A semifinal into overtime Thursday at Shirk Center. The sixth-seeded Timberwolves then built a 50-45 lead and held on for a 51-50 upset of top-seeded and No. 7 state-ranked Central Catholic.
"Catch it on the run, take one dribble and get his leg into it. That's what we said ¦ I guess," CPCI coach Kevin Long said.
Steffen executed it perfectly, as if he'd practiced the shot.
"Sometimes at the end of practice, I'll launch one up just messing around," he said. "But no, we don't practice it."
The win advanced CPCI (12-1) to today's 6 p.m. championship game against fourth-seeded Hartsburg-Emden in a matchup of the two smallest enrollments in the field.
Central Catholic (9-3) had taken a 44-41 lead with 1.2 to play on two free throws by freshman Tom Norton. CPCI then took a timeout before Steffen's heroics.
"We made the decision not to foul and put them at the line with a chance to score," Central coach Jeff Wulbrun said. "We thought with 1.2 seconds left, they couldn't advance the ball very far and whoever caught it would need to put up a shot. We played it the way we wanted to, and the kid hit a 70-foot shot. You have to live with that."
CPCI led 47-45 in overtime when the Saints' Justin Safford stole a pass near midcourt, but his layup rolled off the rim and Steffen was fouled. He made both free throws for a 49-45 cushion with 32 seconds left.
After Central missed a 3-point attempt, Steffen was fouled with 20.7 to go and made one of two free throws for the 50-45 lead. Central was within 51-47 when Kyle Hundman's 3-pointer made it 51-50 as time expired.
"That was a great game," Long said. "We were outmatched at almost every position. We beat a darn good team. We wanted to shorten the game and have fewer possessions and see if we could negate a little of their athleticism. Our kids have a lot of heart. They've really grown up this week."
Steffen scored 12 points to lead CPCI, which sank 9 of 19 shots from 3-point range, including 6 of 10 in the second half. Six-foot-two Jordan Hurliman, the Timberwolves' tallest player, contributed 10 points and seven rebounds.
Norton scored 11 points, while the 6-8 Safford and 6-6 Paul Kabbes added 10 each for the Saints. Safford also had nine rebounds as Central saw its nine-game win streak snapped.
"Our kids competed hard," Wulbrun said. "Down the stretch and in overtime, I don't think our shot selection or execution were what they needed to be to finish off that game. CPCI just did a tremendous job. What a disciplined team and an unselfish team."
Hartem 49, Rockridge 34
Senior forward Scott Ubbenga scored nine straight points to open the fourth quarter, staking Hartsburg-Emden to a 38-25 lead over cold-shooting Rockridge (7-4).
Ubbenga finished with 23 points while going over 1,000 for his career. Guard Gary Rademaker added nine for the Stags (12-1), who led 17-14 at the half and 29-23 after three quarters.
Hartsburg-Emden held Rockridge senior star Tyson Blaser to 15 points, one day after Blaser scored 36 in a win over top-seeded IVC. Curtis Conrady (5-10) had the primary responsibility of guarding the 6-2 Blaser.
"He does a great job," Stags' coach Josh Nauman said. "Curt is so small, but as guys go up, he just grabs the ball from them. People get mad and want the foul. But he's just real good at taking the ball from them.
"When you play defense like that (as a team), teams can stay with you for a quarter or a half, but eventually it's going to wear them down. Tonight our guys stuck with it and they saw what happened in the fourth quarter. We just kind of wore them down by keeping the pressure on and playing tough defense."
Blaser was the only player in double figures for Rockridge.
"We thought they were going to sag in on Ty and they did a nice job," Rockridge coach Jeff Henry said. "We had kids who had open looks, but we really struggled to hit the open shots. The first couple of minutes of the fourth quarter were really poor for us."
Other games ¦
Addison Driscoll 67, U High 59 Thanks to 11 baskets from 3-point range, Addison Driscoll turned back University High in the third-place consolation game at Central Catholic.
U High (6-8), which lost earlier in the day to Rock Island Alleman 52-45, was led by Drew Miller and Tyler McNeely with 13 points each.
Driscoll outscored U High 19-15 in the third quarter to break a 25-all halftime tie and take a 44-40 lead into the fourth quarter.
El Paso-Gridley 54, Mount Pulaski 47 Jeremy Balf scored 16 points and Jake Foor added 14 as El Paso-Gridley (5-5) claimed the fifth-place consolation game with its second victory of the day. The Titans earlier beat Olympia 45-44.
Mount Pulaski (7-8) received 16 points from Chris Smith. The Hilltoppers downed Rochester 41-38 earlier in the day.
Rochester 51, Olympia 39: Rochester overcame a five-point halftime deficit to beat Olympia (5-7) in the seventh-place consolation game.
Peoria Christian 53, Alleman 48 Despite making 11 of 23 free throws, Peoria Christian (7-5) hung on to capture the consolation championship game. Noah Wethington paced Alleman (4-8) with a game-high 21 points.